Man in Marxist Theory. Lucien SÚve 1974

1.3 The mistake of physiologism

If the science of personality must therefore be conceived as the science of social structures of the personality and their laws of development, one can understand the radical nature of the mistake which consists in biologising the personality in any form whatsoever, the mistake of physiologism which, via the idea of the personality, tends to contaminate all psychology. The mistake is not, of course, to assert that everything in the concrete psychic activity of the personality consists of physiologically analysable processes. On the contrary, we have said this is an uncontestable truth. Neither is it, therefore, to be concerned with existing physiological relations between acts, and in particular more or less stable relations characteristic of some individual’s psychism which stamp a particular character on his activity. Although the utter confusion which persists in the terminology in this domain is itself already the sign that basic theoretical problems are not correctly solved, there is certainly no question of denying that research into an essentially physiological structure of individual psychism – which one refers to as character, temperament, nervous type – is perfectly acceptable and obviously useful research. Nothing in the idea of the psychology of personality suggested here implies that one rejects the validity of the principle of a psychobiological typology of human individuals. But much as the biological characterisation of personalities is legitimate in its order, i.e. in the order of natural relations between acts and particularly in the early structures of these relations, the confusion of terrains which is so common, the failure to recognise the narrow limits of validity of such a typology and, finally, the attempt to account albeit ‘partially’, for the developed personality in these terms – to account for its ‘biological basis’ in the most widespread ideology, for example -- constitutes a decisive mistake.

It constitutes a decisive mistake in the first place because, as we noted earlier, the natural starting-point in the life of individuals and of social formations alike is quite different from the real basis of the developed whole, the development of the whole consisting precisely in the inversion of relations between the natural and the social, in the progressive transformation of natural facts into historical results: in the developed individual even the organism has mainly become the result of the personality in the historical materialist sense of this concept. If it is not sufficiently thought out in the light of the Marxist dialectic and the lessons of the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach, the geneticism which is especially common in child psychology, is very likely to lead to radical mistakes in this respect. For the dominant paradox of the genesis of the personality is that while the adult emerges from the child (and to this extent it is true that child psychology throws light on that of the adult) he is not, for all that, produced by him but by the world of social relations, so that the psychology of the developed personality cannot obtain what is essential to it from child psychology, and it may even in its turn possibly be found to be an essential basis for child psychology, i.e. the psychology of a being who is humanised from the very outset through his relations with adults. Practical proof of this is highly evident moreover in the fact that, in spite of its relatively long scientific standing, child psychology has not at all succeeded in extending itself into a psychology of the adult personality of any value. The idea that psychologically speaking the child is the father of the man is therefore basically an illusion of an insufficiently critical geneticism; and the fatal propensity of such geneticism is backsliding into naturalism, which rests philosophically on speculative humanism.

But if a biotypology, legitimate as its principle is in its order, is unable to found the theory of personality, it is even more because the essential structures of personality are not essentially biological, so that the attempt to apprehend them on this terrain rests on a complete perversion of the conception of man and certainly has no chance of ending in success. The effort to give the personality considered as a historico-social formation a theory with a biological basis is itself one of those aberrations the persistence, or rather the relative critical impunity, of which should be enough to show that psychology has still not altogether reached maturity. This aberration is of the same order and results in the same kind of theoretical nonsense as the attempt to found historical and political science on a geographical characterisation of social formations, for example, on the opposition between so-called ‘continental civilisations’ and ‘coastal civilisations’. These kinds of nonsensical geopolitical notions, which use a few real facts to arrive at a profound lack of understanding of what a human society actually is, are analogous to those found in an attempt such as that of W.H. Sheldon who, basing himself on considerations of physical morphology, claims that ‘human beings can be described in terms of their most deep-seated similarities and differences’. In other words, at the cost of methodological sophisms and epistemological naivities of the highest order, Sheldon undertakes to prove mathematically that on the whole ‘the tradition (which) has it that fat men are jolly and generous’ is wellgrounded. As everyone knows, Sheldon thinks he can identify three ‘primary components of temperament’, each of which are strongly correlated with morphological types: visceratonia, somatonia and cerebrotonia. ‘The life of a viscerotonic individual seems to be organised primarily to serve the gut’, the somatonic ‘to experience physical adventure and combat’ and the cerebrotonic to get ‘conscious attention, which involves an inhibition or “hushing” of other activities of the body’. And here are the general conclusions which the author manages to arrive at on the basis of such conceptualisation:

If we may be permitted to speculate about the origins of things, it appears that in the beginning all life is predominantly viscerotonic. When the text of evolution is finally written, it may well turn out that even in point of time, viscerotoma was the first component. The other components may conceivably be regarded as evolutionary developments which came into being as specialisations designed to support the first organic function, but which in the course of time have become to a degree autonomous in themselves.
In our own Christian history cerebrotonic virtues of restraint and the viscerotonic virtue of brotherly love have defmed the cornerstones for religious thought and for a theological rationalisation of life (we have, however, for the most part practiced an aggresively somatotonic way of life, and perhaps in this incompatibility lies some of the reason for present- day orientational confusion).... Up to the time of the ‘somatotomc revolution’, which became so readily apparent at about the period of the first World War, we were attempting, so far as the common conscious rationalisation was concerned, to live out a religious ideal based essentially on cerebrotoma, although complicated by an undercurrent of sublimated viscerotonia (love of man). But for some time now, as especially obvious in Germany,59 a vigorous religious movement has been afoot which is based squarely on unsublimated somatotonia.
The counter-revolution has set in. The ban on somatotonia is lifted, and if our grandchildren go to Sunday school they may be shown pictures not of a Christ suffering in cerebrotonic tight-lipped silence on a cross, but of a Christ performing heroic feats of athletic prowess ... Christianity has been in some sense a religious suppression of somatotonia, but we seem now to have come into a counter-revolution, with a tendency to hoot automobile horns and to amplify every kind of noise in general celebration. We have been on a somatotonic joy-ride. Possibly we were a degenerating race, gone too far to brain: the long period of cerebrotonic ratiocination which we call the Christian period might indicate as much. From such a point of view the recent somatotonic revolution, if such it really is, may be a sign of health, even though it be a regression to barbarism. From another point of view somatotonia in the ascendent may be a catastrophe. In any case, we may be sure of one thing: the appraisal put upon history will always depend upon which component pronounces the judgment.

One thinks one is dreaming when one reads such nonsense, and in a large work covered in conspicuous mathematisation – which, let it be said in passing, bears out to what extent mathematisation of psychology, as of any science, while it is of course a necessity once a certain threshold of development of its foundations has been crossed and is like the consumation of its transition to adulthood is, on the other hand, below this threshold merely the vulgar pretext, the window-dressing, of a discipline which does not even manage to work out its basic elements satisfactorily. What is particularly instructive in Sheldon’s work is that these alarming, broad-ranging politico-historical conclusions in actual fact are not at all conclusions (the foolishness of which does not therefore necessarily vitiate the starting-point of the theory of temperaments); they themselves are the real starting-point. In its conclusions, Sheldon’s psychology quite naturally returns to the biopolitical ideology of which in point of fact, it is essentially merely the projection onto the problem of personality: it is hardly difficult, for example, to see what the notion of somatotonia ideologically represents for an American. From the methodological point of view, this game of mirrors, which passses off ideological presuppositions which are actually wholly preselected by basic ideology as objective conclusions from ‘empirical facts’, is obvious at every moment and now and then is almost acknowledged in Sheldon’s book. It is particularly obvious in the extraordinary ‘Wisconsin scale of radicalism and conservatism’62 used by the author to ‘break the ice’ with the subjects studied and to draw up an ‘inventory of the personality’: such ‘drawing up’ consists for certain in putting the rabbit into the hat which one then intends to draw from it. One is not even surprised to find pure and simple racism strictly incorporated into the basic conceptions. This is how Sheldon adopts a system of four racial terms for investigating morphological types: ‘Nordic’, ‘Alpine’, ‘Mediterranean’ predominance – and ‘Jewish with “Armenoid” characteristics predominant’ where biologism flourishes racism is never far away. But how can biologism be avoided when one also completely fails to recognise the social essence of the developed personality? Even in an author who is free from the vulgarity of thought of a Sheldon, such misrecognition makes it impossible to grasp in man the essential of his psychic life.

This is what appears strikingly in this truly disarming statement by the author:

The cerebrotonic may be literate or illiterate, may be trained or untrained in the conventional intellectual exercises of his milieu, may be an avid reader or may never read a book, may be a scholastic genius or may have failed in every sort of schooling. He may be a dreamer, a poet, philosopher, recluse, or builder of utopias and of abstract psychologies. He may be a schizoid personality, a religious fanatic, an ascetic, a patient martyr, or a contentious crusader. All these things depend upon the intermixture of other components, upon other variables in the symphony, and also upon the environmental pressures to which the personality has been exposed. The essential characteristic of the cerebrotonic is his acuteness of attention. The other two major functions, the direct visceral and the direct somatic functions, are subjugated, held in check, and rendered secondary. The cerebrotonic eats and exercises to attend..

Let us even grant that this latter statement is not devoid of all scientific consistency; what is obvious in any case is that far from reaching ‘the most deep-seated characteristics’ of the personality as the author imagines, the notion of cerebrotonia as it is presented here is, on the contrary, most superficial and shallow from the point of view of the whole real wealth of content of human life. Such a notion disregards in principle what is most important in order to understand what concretely defines a personality at the deepest level. In other words even if one were to grant that it is possible through works like Sheldon’s to arrive at some understanding of the form, the individual style of some aspects of behaviour – which actually would require theoretical rigour above what Sheldon is capable of – it is perfectly obvious that they could never tell us anything about the real content of personal life nor therefore about its essential structures and its internal logic of development. What a man makes of his life and what his life makes of him, that is what we want to be able to understand on the basis of a psychology of personality worthy of the name, i.e. one which is resolutely placed on a different level from that of the psychology of weekly illustrated magazines. Is it not clear that whether a man gets pleasure in defecation – an important feature of viscerotonia according to Sheldon – or whether he is frequently in movement – ‘gesticulating, readily leaping up from his chair, hurriedly coming and going’,65 rather than steady and calm, an important characteristic of the ‘active’ in Heymans’ characterology – are all more or less unimportant compared with the crucial question of what he does in all domains of real human life, economic, social, political, cultural, familial, etc.: is he a productive worker or a social parasite? are his relations with other men dominated by alienated forms of social relations or not? is he an egoistic pleasure-seeker or an architect of changes in existing socio-political conditions? is his personality stagnant and ossified or developing in many ways? is he aware of the real basis of this personality and the nature of his relations with the world in which he lives or does all this remain enveloped in the thick mists of a mystifying ideology as far as he is concerned? – together with many other things of the same nature it is this which for us gets to the bottom of the objective meaning of a man’s life: the content of his activity, not its ‘typological’form, what he does and not merely the way in which he does it, especially when this ‘way’ is described on the basis of the most trivial criteria.

And this gets to the bottom of things not only from the theoretical point of view but simultaneously from the practical point of view for, let us repeat, the psychology of personality will only really deserve its name when, as far as it depends on this it is the instrument of the full flowering of all personalities – full, in so far as a determinate stage of development of the productive forces, social relations and culture actually makes it possible for every individual. If it is true that, at the same time as it expresses theoretical and epistemological views on science and man, every conception of the science of personality, whether it is aware of it or not, also necessarily involves a founding project of a practical nature which is politi°ca1 in the broad sense of the word and of which it is the instigator at the level of knowledge, the conception of the psychology of personality which we put forward here is unequivocal: the practical project that it aims to carry into effect and with which it is articulated is none other than scientific socialism, which is equally scientific humanism. The founding project of a psychology of temperament like Sheldon’s is, on the contrary, openly conservative with regard to exploiting and alienating capitalist society. As early as his Foreword, Sheldon quite consciously says that his aim is ‘to differentiate between heredity and the effects of environment’, and this is calculated to provide ‘the needed leverage for an attack on many social problems, ranging all the way from vocational guidance and military specialisation to the isolation and elimination of cancer ‘ Let us pass over cancer; what appears plainly here is that Sheldon’s ultimate objective is quite simply to heighten individuals’ subordination to social relations which, it goes without saying, are not questioned and which are even to be strengthened by subordinating individuals as much as possible (‘that useful role in social life which has so long been expected of psychology’), for example, in their assignment to military service. Strictly speaking, it is a recruiting-sergeant’s psychology. Nothing reveals the real sense of the heredity-environment dichotomy taken as the basis for conceptualising the human individual more clearly: what is called heredity here, behind the smokescreen of so-called experimental proofs and the so-called verdict of statistical calculations, what from the very outset is disguised in biological facts, is the totality of effects on individuals of a social system considered as immutable. To view the personality in terms of a temperament conceived as its ‘biological basis’ in such a case means that one does not know how or one does not wish to undertake the crucial investigation of its real socio-historical basis. And the concepts accepted as the starting-point of such a science directly belong to the prevailing conservative ideology.

Moreover this is why nothing is more deeply mistaken than to dismiss all theories of personality indiscriminately, in the name of a sceptical pragmatism, merely Seeing in each of them a more or less successful and intrinsically worthless rationalisation based on a subjective and arbitrary and therefore unprovable political choice. In actual fact the objective human significance of every theory of personality decides the political project from which it sets out, for every political project has the concept of personality which it deserves. If most existing theories are distinguished by the extreme narrowness of the field of vision in which they apprehend the personality, merely perceiving some, and at times even the narrowest, of its forms, it is precisely because narrow class views, (and this is almost inconceivable to a certain type of scholar and yet it is obvious) put the essential bases of the personality, i.e. the ensemble of social relations which themselves remain invisible in so far as one does not come up against them in practice and is not forced to call them into question again, beyond the reach of scientific vigilance. In this sense there is a link between the progress of psychology and a politically progressive attitude, which is moreover empirically observable. And if, as we assert here, scientific socialism alone makes it possible to found a psychology of personality which is genuinely rich in content, scientific and adult – in a word, true – it is because it is not one ‘political opinion’ among others, a narrow class prejudice, but rather the scientific reflection of the real movement of history and its conscious development into the future, a movement which can only be left out of account in the imagination and which essentially belongs to the sphere of the demonstrable. On the whole there is no better way of a theory of personality condemning itself than by refusing any contact with what constitutes the most vital in human life for every man and for the whole society and, implicitly or otherwise, rejecting it from the direction of sociology, the study of ‘outlooks’, or indeed of ‘philosophy’ or literature, as if the content of a life was merely a contingent accident of personality. But to grasp how the theory of personality can take this content for its essential object, it is necessary to get to it through the science of social relations, and therefore through Marxism. And that is why such a high price is paid in psychology if one neglects Marxism or if one’s knowledge of it is too vague.

After all Sheldon’s case is far from being the only one to show what biological commonplaces a psychology falls into when it knows nothing about the fundamental role of social relations. One finds illustrations of it everywhere, for biologism today is still surely the most widespread ideological substitute for the still-absent theory of personality. It is Kretschmer, for example, who, in his book on men of genius, formulates the hypothesis ‘that most great philosophers, theologians and founders of religion ought to be leptosomatic-schizothymes; great naturalists, on the contrary, physicians and experimentalists in the domain of the nautral sciences, preferably ought to be pykniccyclothymes.

In order to verify this hypothesis Kretschmer studied several collections of portraits of men of science, physicians and distinguished personalities in general and out of fifty-nine philosophers, theologians and jurists he thought he found 59% leptosomes, in other words, to simplify, thin people, and only 15 % pyknics, i.e. fat people. The primitivism of such ‘verification’ is dismaying. ‘By way of example’, J. Nuttin writes, ‘it is easy to cite several famous names which confirm Kretschmer’s thesis. In philosophy, it is enough to think of Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche who were all pure and very pronounced leptosomes.

Obviously there have been thin philosophers. But what is striking in such a view of things is not only how easy it is to draw up a counter-list just as convincing in the opposite sense, not only among anti-religious philosophers, indeed materialists, like Hume, Diderot, Holbach, Helvetius or Marx, but even among most spiritualists, indeed theologians, like Thomas Aquinas, Berkeley, Leibnitz, Schelling or Lachelier who were quite the opposite of thin. No, what is most instructive here again is the alarming weakness of the basic concepts – for example the dichotomy drawn between ‘philosophers and theologians’ on the one hand, and ‘naturalists, physicians and experimentalists’ on the other, as if Descartes, to take the first person cited, were to prove the thesis as a philosopher but not invalidate it as a scientist! More fundamentally, the hypothesis that philosophical or scientific thought might be predetermined in corporeal traits shows such a lack of understanding of what the real conditions for both actually correspond to that any critical discussion is in fact unnecessary. Although Heyman’s characterology, another example, does not for its part go into the biological determinants of personalities, it nevertheless agrees that ‘all primary and secondary determinations of personality may be stated in a strictly physiological language’,which indeed confirms that it rests on the belief in an innate biological structure of the bases of the personality. This is why it results in conclusions which are altogether at the same level of those we noted in Sheldon. Even where biological characterisation is most scientifically established, and with awareness of its theoretical limits as in Pavlov, is it not significant to see how, as soon as one ventures out of the terrain of the nervous typology valid for man and dog alike (Pavlov’s division into four types: highly excitable disequilibrated or choleric, highly actively equilibrated or sanguine, highly passively equilibrated or phlegmatic, weak or melancholic, the approach to the domain of strictly human typology in physiological terms involves concepts (‘intellectual’ type with predominance of the second set of conditioned stimuli, language, over the first, sensations; ‘artistic’ type with predominance of the first over the second; ‘intermediary’ type) which, it must clearly be said, are absolutely lacking in rigour and unable to take us far? It is therefore necessary to accept the obvious: in the theory of personality biologism and physiologism are fundamental mistakes: something like biological structures of individuality undoubtedly exist but they are not the basis of the developed personality but, on the contrary, are increasingly its result. Here we come across the analogy in psychology of the basic historical mistake according to which the basis of human societies is obviously geographical. Now while it is true that it was from natural conditions that the development of mankind started, the whole of human history precisely consists in the transformation of these ‘natural facts into historical facts’, which does not mean that the reciprocal conditioning between ‘geography’ and ‘history’ has ceased.

– Capital shows sufficiently to what extent Marx was far from scorning the role of geographical conditions – but that overall it is inverted. It is no longer geographical ‘facts’ which are the basis of developed history, since they themselves have increasingly become historical results: it is history which is its own basis and the real basis of these geographical ‘facts’. This inversion of the natural and the social, fully brought out by Marx, is the secret of the whole process of humanisation. In this sense it is not at all a question of recommending that psychology should disregard the role of biological ‘facts’ – the reciprocal conditioning of the ‘biological’ and the ‘psychological’ never ceases of course –- but of fully understanding that the biological ‘facts’ which characterise the psychic individual at his birth and which are already partly a result of the earlier society, are increasingly transformed by the development of the personality into psychological results and are therefore not so much its basis as its result. To understand this is to be rendered immune to what is undoubtedly the most harmful infantile disorder to which the psychology of personality is prone – naturalism – the tendency to conceive psychic activities as natural faculties, to view them in terms of an individuality itself conceived as their natural support, to ‘explain’ them by the ‘natural facts’ of biokgy – or by the immediate given facts of consciousness, depending on whether naturalism presents itself in pseudo-materialist or openly spiritualistic forms – without understanding that in their very essence they are actually the results of social relations. This fetishism of psychic functions, the correlative, we have seen, of commodity fetishism on the terrain of political economy, is the fatal mistake in the psychology of personality.

In its physiologistic form it is a mistake which is all the more insidious and must be all the more rigorously combatted because it has a materialist appearance. Is not the assertion that everything which is psychic is nervous, and therefore that the whole personality is of a physiological nature, that man is a political animal but an animal all the same, in short, the radical denial of that spiritualistic whim, the soul, the ultimate in materialism? This is what it appears at first sight. And no doubt historically it was inevitable that the critique of spiritualism came about in the first place in the form of an apparently extreme and, actually, still essentially incomplete materialism, the physiological and medical materialism inscribed in the heart of the tradition of French bourgeois materialism from Dr. Regius, an over-zealous disciple of Descartes, to Dr. Broca, through Dr.’s La Mettrie, Cabanis and Broussais. This materialism rendered the greatest ideological services which a Marxist should not forget. For a long time misrepresented and boycotted and, what is worse, stunted by unremitting oppression, it provided the mould for the development of a materialist science of psychism, a physiology of higher nervous activity, and this not only in France – think of the influence of this French medical materialism on Sechenov and Pavlov, for example – but internationally. Furthermore, its merits do not belong wholly to the past. The scientific materialist denial of the spiritualistic metaphysics of the soul is of current relevance and undoubtedly will be so for a long time yet. So long as the pitiful sophisms of a Bergson, according to whom the image of material reality cannot exist in the brain since, on the contrary, ‘the brain is a part of this image’, are taught as axioms to thousands of young people in too many of our philosophy classes every year, the struggle for the materialist conception of psychism will remain the order of the day.

But the main weakness of physiologistic materialism is precisely that it cannot lead this struggle to a successful result. It cannot because, while it remains within its own limits, it can tell us nothing about the historico-social personality, i.e. precisely what the best part of spiritualism gropingly aims at through the concept of the soul while if it goes beyond its legitimate limits, it changes into an ideology as false and as harmful as metaphysical spiritualism itself. It is just as false and harmful in so far as it absolutely fails to recognise the social relations that constitute the very basis of the personality and imagines that it accounts for it by the fiction of a natural consistency (indeed, in the crudest forms, the fiction of a natural substance) of psychic identity, no less mystifying than the supernatural substance of the soul. In short it is necessary to understand this essential fact: what historical materialism made it possible to discover is that a psvchism indeed exists without an organic body, or, more accurately, that the real limits of the psychism extend enormously beyond the limits of the organism. They extend beyond them notably in the sense that natural conditions and especially the instruments of labour (or more broadly of social activity), while they are external to organic individuality, are assimilated by human activity and incorporated into its circuits. Therefore it is true that, as Marx said in connection with land in the case of the most feebly developed societies, (and this is all the more so in connection with complex instruments of labour, which ‘only form, so to speak, his [man’s] extended body’,) they become man’s inorganic body. Let us go further: not only must we admit the existence of this immense and varied inorganic body of man but what calls for an explanation is the opposed illusion according to which the human body, considered as a support of the personality, is reduced to the organism.

It is not the unity of living and active humanity with the natural, inorganic conditions of their metabolic exchange with nature, and hence their appropriation of nature, which requires explanation or is the result of a historic process, but rather the separation between these inorganic conditions of human existence and this active existence, a separation which is completely posited only in the relation of wage-labour and capital. In the relations of slavery and serfdom this separation does not take place; rather, one part of society is treated by the other as itself merely an inorganic and natural condition of its own reproduction.

In other words, the reduction of the material basis of the personality to the individual organism, which reaches its highest point in medical bourgeois materialism, appears in its modern version as a typical ideology of capitalist society, i.e. the society which presupposes as a prerequisite historical condition the complete separation of the producers and the instruments of production. In one respect the concept of body defined in abstraction from the non-organic conditions of productive labour, a valid concept on the physiological and medical terrain, is in itself idealist as a concept of the psychology of personality; failing to recognise the essential character of productive activity, of social practice, i.e. once again missing the whole sense of the Theses on Feuerbach and mature Marxism, this idealist concept is necessarily complemented by an idealist concept of the soul, albeit in the apparently materialist form of a biologised soul. It is the whole traditional problematic of soul and body which is therefore to be criticised radically and surpassed.

We can go further. Man’s inorganic body, the real basis of his personality in conjunction with his organic body, is not reducible to natural conditions and instruments of production, nor even to the whole of those social riches, like language8° by way of which this personality constructs itself, but once again, it is the ensemble of social relations within which it is produced. For most human acts in a developed society do not proceed according to a merely individual circuit but, on the contrary, a more or less large part of their trajectory goes through social circuits which are often extraordinarily far removed from the immediate reality of the individual’s concrete action. In order to account for a relation as apparently straightforward as the wage-rate paid to a labourer for his work, it is necessary to get beyond it up to and including capitalist competition on an international scale. In fact it is the immense extent of the detour between the starting-point of an individual’s action and its return to itself, which explains the basic spontaneous unconsciousness of the individual of the real bases of his personality. It will have to be considered whether this unconscious is not at least as essential as the Freudian unconscious and exactly what relation there is between them; in fact this is undoubtedly the central point in the effort to determine the modalities of possible articulation of psychoanalytic theory with historical materialism and the theory of personality which it implies. This unconsciousness of the real basis is all the more profound, in that form of individuality characteristic of capitalism, because social relations assume the mystified form of things and things of a highly abstract nature. Thus the worker’s living personality, only being realisable through the dominant relations of production, assumes the value-form of labour-power. Now although it governs the individual’s whole activity, the value of labour-power in itself has no physiological reality. Marx emphasised that ‘since exchange-value is a definite social manner of expressing the amount of labour bestowed upon an object, Nature has no more to do with it, than it has in fixing the course of exchange ... so far no chemist has ever discovered exchange-valu&either in a pearl or a diamond.

The physiologism of vulgar psychology also ought to feel the bite of this scathing remark aimed at the naive realism of vulgar political economy. Because, for precisely the same reason, no physiologist will ever discover the value of labour-power in a neurone and no geneticist willfind its source in chromosomes. This is one of those warnings which the philosopher may sometimes give to the scientist undogmatically and which the scientist would be wrong to disregard. It is the key to the whole biologistic and physiologistic mistake in psychology: one searches for the secret of the personality where it cannot exist. In making the limits of psychism coincide with those of the organism one makes an enormous mistake concealed beneath the appearances of the immediate facts. On the other hand, of one really reflects on the basis of Marxism, one takes seriously, for example, this highly profound observation of the Soviet psychologist, Vygotsky.

There is no hope of finding the sources of free action in the lofty realms of the mind or in the depths of the brain. The idealist approach of the phenomenologists is as hopeless as the positive approach of the naturalists. To discover the sources of free action it is necessary to go outside the limits of the organism, not into the intimate sphere of the mind, but into the objective forms of social life; it is necessary to seek the sources of human consciousness and freedom in the social history of humanity. To find the soul it is necessary to lose it.

It seems to me that this last turn of phrase, inwardly inspired by the dialectic of the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach, leads to an original defintion of the attitude of truly scientific, i.e. Marxist, materialism with regard to the spiritualistic illusion of the soul. For physiologistic materialism the soul is merely nonsense, an empty word which one ought purely and simply to delete from scientific terminology. For historical materialism the denial of the soul as ‘non-material substance’ is defmitely established of course, and there can be no question of reverting to it. But this is not enough; it must be surpassed. One must go as far as rigorously grasping what constitutes the rational kernel of the notion of the soul, the scientific concept of soul, namely the dynamic of non- physiological relations which give life to a personality. From this point of view a concept of soul is not only fitted to function in materialist theory but I will even say that materialism cannot dispense with it without becoming meaningless. The correctness of Lenin’s judgement is proved on this point too.

Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philsophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated, uberschwengliches (Dietzgen) development (inflation, distention) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosised.

He expresses this more crudely by noting ‘intelligent idealism is closer to intelligent materialism than stupid materialism’.Intelligent materialism does not deny the soul but shows its reality in the dynamic of relations that constitute the personality.

The former attitude is still sometimes considered to be the greatest materialist strength but in actual fact it is not merely false. It also does most obvious harm to the materialism which it claims to serve, in the first place because the pure and simple denial of the soul in the sense of physiologistic materialism has no chance of lastingly convincing a thoughtful person of the correctness of materialism: it is obvious that one cannot account for what is most fundamental in the life of a personality, its meaning, by going no further than biological considerations. Such a reduction is therefore harmful to materialism itself. Even more: it serves spiritualism. Is it not extremely remarkable to see today, on the part of spiritualism, a growing return to that old narrow-minded point of view which strives at any price to minimise the role of the brain in order to make room for the metaphysics of the soul and personalist mythology, while, on the other hand, a new form of spiritualism is developing, which is particularly recognisable in the publications of a physiologist and moralist like Chauchard and which, in explaining consciousness, gives a determinant place to the brain? The cerebra lism which the medical materialism of the nineteenth century brandished like a weapon against religious metaphysics today serves increasingly openly as an instrument in the spiritualistic counteroffensive. And this is not difficult to understand. The more one reduces the materialist, scientific explanation of psychism and the personality to an explanation in terms of the brain, and the more the personality and psychism appear as irreducible simply to a materialist and scientific explanation, the more the sense of dissatisfaction which arises from this visibly limited type of approach feeds the demand for an addition of the soul. But more deeply, an anthropology which misrecognises the decisive role of labour and labour relations in the development of man is idealist, and even covertly theological, in its very inner meaning. The obvious paradox which makes the thesis of man’s animal origin thus understood actually serve idealism has already been pointed out by A. Leroi-Gourhan. Haunted by the idea of the ape-man, the paleontology and prehistory of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century have persisted in the mistake for a long time. As J. Suret-Canale writes:

The resemblance of ‘large anthropoid apes’ to man has long struck the imagination. Haeckal – dispensing with Darwin’s caution – tried to regard them as man’s ancestors, and it is in this perspective of ‘intermediary links’ between the chimpanzee or gorilla and man that the interpretation of paleontological discoveries is inscribed. To this first mistake, which was altogether comprehensible and not unthinkable as a working hypothesis, was added another: the idealist preconception making the ‘soul’ the very essence of man was more or less transposed into terms which looked as though they were materialist: the brain replacing the soul, evolution towards mankind was conceived above all as a process of ‘cerebralisation.

Consequently the whole role of social labour in connection with the freeing of the hand, itself inseparable from the erect posture peculiar to man’s ancestors and absent in large apes, is misrecognised or rejected and, instead of slowly producing himself, man merely appears as the passive product of a cosmic process of anthropogenesis, the origin and meaning of which a Teilhard de Chardin has no difficulty in claiming are divine since his way of 1ooking at it is speculatively mystified in advance. One can see how the biologistic denial of the soul, the failure to recognise historical materialism and the relapse into spiritualism are partly connected. Politzer had already thoroughly revealed this deep- seated complicity on the terrain of psychology.

Medical, physiological or biological materia.hsm is still only a negative reaction confronted with spiritualism; a negation strictly modelled on the affirmative proposition: the old materialism is cast in the tnould of spiritualism. It accepts the way in which the latter delimits the object of psychology and poses its problems; it t~5k~~ the same text but simply calls matter everything which spiritualism calls mind, it preserves spiritualism in a frozen state.

Even though its very title bears the stamp of the state of knowledge in that period, how much further and more clearly than his contemporaries did Engels see, when, in 1876 in nis essay ‘The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man’, he wrote:

In the face of these creations (art and science, nations and states, law, politics and religion) which appeared in the first place to be products of the mind, and which seemed to dominate human societies, the more modest production of the working hand retreated into the background, the more so since the mind that planned the labour process already at a very early stage of development of society (e.g. already in the simple family), was able to have this planned labour carried out by other hands than its own. All merit for the swift advance of civilisation was ascribed to the mind, to the development and activity of the brain. Men became accustomed to explain their actions from their thoughts, instead of from their needs (which in any case are reflected, come to Consciousness in the mind) – and so there arose in the course of time that idealistic outlook which, especially since the downfall of the ancient world, has dominated men’s mind. It still rules them to such a degree that even the most materialistic natural scientists of the Darwinian school are still unable to form any clear idea of the origin of man, because under that ideological influence, they do not recognise the part that has been played therein by labour.

These words are more timely than ever now when, through a persistent ignorance or undervaluation of Marxism, one can see reviving here and there a cerebralism which is however condemned by the converging discoveries of modern anthropology. Even in a work of the level of Levi-Strauss’, the ultimate hypothesis is today insistently taken up again that the structures which in his opinion underly all manifestations of culture, have their origin in the ‘universal laws of the human mind’, themselves explainable by the ‘structure of the brain’. The revival of biologism and cerebralist materialism in the human sciences, which have been observable for some years, is not unknown to the audience won over by Lévi-Straussian structuralism. One must clearly state that, far from being the outcome of the most advanced science, cerebralism, the objective role of which is to replace economic infrastructures as the real basis of human social development by biological ‘infrastructures’, thereby making it possible to conceal the decisive role of the relations of production, is merely the re-appearance of what was the most serious fault in the anthropology of the last century.

But the struggle of Marxism against physiological materialism must not be conceived only for external use. For Marxism itself is not guaranteed against all deformation of this kind, against partial relapse to the level of this nineteenth-century bourgeois materialism dominated by the obsession to have to combat the spiritualism of the soul by the physiologism of nervous activity and born of a secular tradition of materialist struggle against animism; it is not secure from all partial relapse from what truly constitutes its specific character and the source of its remarkable scientific fruitfulness: the discovery of historical materialism. In this respect it is necessary to reflect on the fact that up till now the possible contribution of Marxism to psychology has been understood most often as the contribution of dialectical materialism – which there is certainly no question of undervaluing – but much less as the contribution of historical materialism, which is however much more vital: this is definitely the result of a tendency to represent psychological concepts as dependent on categories of matter (which is true) but less as connected with those of history, so that, it must be clearly said that while, in this perspective, disproportionate hopes have often been put in Pavlovian physiology, Capital has still hardly been accepted as the key to the theory of personality even where Marxism itself is concerned.

And from this point of view the fact that the scientific theory of individuakty and personality has not so far been developed as it ought, creates an objective danger of partial regression to the materialism which Engels called that of the ‘itinerant preachers’– Vogt and Büchfler – a danger which is all the greater if biological and medical training are not balanced by a thorough study of dialectical and historical materialism.

This becomes clear, for example, when it comes to recognising the profoundly bourgeois character of the ideology of ‘natural aptitudes.l When questioning this ideology, it happens at first that even in Marxists there is a biologistic reaction, which is to assert the fundamental role of organic, indeed hereditary facts. Earlier we saw that this idea, (which is true for the infant at the very most) makes one badly misrecognise the inversion of relations between the biological and the social, the extra- organic development of psychism, and the development of a dynamic of social relations between acts as the personality progressively constitutes itself. Ultimately the belief in the ideology of ‘natural aptitudes’ means that one mistakes initial biological facts for the real and permanent infrastructure of the personality, social relations merely adding socialised superstructures, and this involves the same basic mistake, as that for example, of the geopolitical point of view compared with historical materialism. Here, therefore, is the beginning of a possible relapse from Marxism which bourgeois thought unceasingly tries to take advantage of.. To complete the Marxist overthrow of the old materialism by contributing to the construction of the scientific theory of personality in its historico-social foundations, on the contrary, is to enrich Marxism, not only in relation to psychology but to the human sciences as a whole. And at the same time it is to enable materialism to defeat spiritualism by making itself really convincing, i.e. able not only to refute the mistake of spiritualism but to demonstrate its mechanism, and even better to give a more correct reply than it does to what might be right in the very thesis of the immateriality of the soul: namely the irreducibility of the dynamic of social relations that constitute the personality to their physiological support. Looked at from this point of view the history of spiritualism itself appears in a new light. Thus when Father Dubarle notes that in the Old Testament ‘man is regarded as an indissociable unity whose psychic activities are scarcely distinguishable from the organism’, while in the New Testament ‘the distinction appears between two constituent parts, the body and soul’, he is not in a position to account for this fact. Is it not understood that in order to account for it he would first of all precisely have to investigate the changes which are brought about in the world of the division of labour and social relations, therefore, in the forms of individuality and real personalities as well as in the ideologies through which they appear ~ Studying the conditions in which the soul arose as a human concept has every chance of showing us both what it really is and therefore what spiritualism, or biologistic materialism – which mistake it for its shadow – and historical materialism – which finally enables us to grasp its consistency – can offer to the demand for an ‘addition of soul’ different from a pious wish: the reality of a historical development.